Last month’s newsletter was met with enthusiastic feedback and requests for further ideas on how to improve your firewood business in the year ahead.
In the last issue, we mentioned that the number one advantage that a legitimate, tax-paying business has over the “rusty pickup guys” is legitimacy itself — those avoiding taxes by flying under the radar can’t afford to attract too much attention to themselves.
Firewood shortages in many areas over the past two winters have forced consumers to recognize the value in a reliable firewood supplier. This creates an opportunity for legitimate suppliers to build an ongoing relationship with their customers, particularly during late winter and spring.
Communicating with your customers on a regular basis is perhaps the most important (and often overlooked) aspect of building a successful business. This is a good time of year to contact them to plan for next season — while the sting of the cold winter air is still fresh in everyone’s mind.
How and What to Communicate
There are many good reasons to reach out to your customers in late winter/early spring. As I said above, the topic of heating fuel is still fresh in everyone’s mind — unlike later summer, when you can only wish people were interested in planning ahead. Selling firewood during the dog days of August is not unlike trying to sell snow cones to eskimos.
Firewood vendors can use several different approaches to pre-orders. The simplest method is to simply ask customers to lock in an order for fall now, based on their past orders and the quantity they have left on hand. While some vendors are happy to do business on a handshake, if there’s no money down to guarantee an order a signed contract should be considered essential.
You might choose to offer fresh-cut firewood for spring delivery at a discount, allowing the customer to season the firewood in their own yard. This arrangement brings in money now, and frees up space in your own wood yard for seasoning future inventory. This is an excellent approach for those in the tree service business who are mainly interested in getting rid of the wood and not equipped for stockpiling large quantities of firewood.
It should be noted many of the “wood too green to burn” complaints we hear come from people who have bought from tree services. In our investigations, it seems that the problem lies mostly with customers misunderstanding the nature of firewood. If you are selling green wood, be sure to let your customers know that it won’t be ready to burn until it’s dried for a reasonable amount of time. Never assume a customer knows that — even those who do will be tempted to overlook this fact when being offered a good deal.
Other Reasons to Communicate
Perhaps the best reason to communicate with your customers at any time is to simply ask them how they think you could serve them better. Everyone has an opinion and most are eager to share. You’d be surprised what you can learn when you’re not trying to make a sale.
Pre-orders also offer a good opportunity to raise prices for next season — you can offer existing customers a chance to lock in at this year’s price if they place an order now. One of our members was able to increase his prices by 25% using this strategy, while making some of his current customers happy and also preparing them for the increase the next time they order.
Yet another good reason to communicate frequently is simply to gain familiarity in your customers’ minds. The more they hear and repeat your name, the less likely they are to remember or even consider your competition. There are many appropriate times to communicate without “badgering” people.
Call them a day or two prior to delivery, both to remind them and to demonstrate a commitment to excellent service. Call them after the delivery to make sure they’re satisfied. All these phone calls take time (which equals money) but it is the single best way to build an appreciative customer base who are sure to stay with you — and spread the word about your top-notch service.
Constant communication is key to running a successful business. It helps retain current customers, attract new customers, and justify a higher asking price than your competitors are getting. Shy away from high-pressure sales tactics — just let them know that you care about keeping their homes heated and their families warm.
Ask and share good information on properly dried firewood, best practices for burning wood, improving their storage space. (You might even sell them a firewood rack, but don’t make that the focus of your call).
The owner of any business spends a lot of time wondering how they could better serve their customers. The answer is simple and straightforward — ask!
The Firewood Workshop
One final tip for doing the best you can in the firewood business is attending the annual Firewood Workshop put on by Harry Watt of North Carolina State University’s Wood Products Extension program. Until this year the event has been held in West Virginia, but this year it will be held in Albany, NY to allow a different audience to attend.
The NFA has been involved in the workshop since 2012, and not only is it an excellent opportunity to learn about the business — as far as we know, it’s the only workshop of its kind in the U.S.
This year’s workshop will be held at the William Smith, Jr. Extension Center of the Albany County Cooperative Extension Office in Voorheesville, New York on May 7th, 2015. Contact us for a brochure/application to attend. We’ll be sending out more information in the coming month or so, but we couldn’t encourage you more strongly to secure a seat at this workshop.